Imagine being a Noongar man and finding a quartz artefact that was most likely tossed away by one of your ancestors anywhere between 19,000 and 30,000 years ago.This was exactly the experience of Larry Blight, one of several Indigenous people involved in an Inspiring Australia project at a crossing on the Kalgan River near Albany.
According to Associate Professor Joe Dortch, who is Director of Eureka Archaeological Research and Consulting, Larry found the stone flake more than two metres down in the test pit in the last hours of the final day of the dig.
The find was even more satisfying because digging and sieving had been delayed by storms and the arrival of several ducklings that none of the group wanted to harm.
The group also discovered ochre that had been carried from another site by the Noongars’ ancestors thousands of years ago as well as charcoal and charred seeds, all of which will be analysed at UWA by scientists who hope to date them and find out where they originated.
The depth of Larry’s find suggests the artefact was about 25,000 to 30,000 years old, Associate Professor Dortch said. This was the time of the last ice age: an era of severe cold and little rain, when the small population of the region may have had to travel long distances to get food and water.
To improve their chances of survival, they would have had to share more, and this may have included the ochre which was (and still is) important for body decoration and perhaps warmth.
Some of the Noongar people collaborated with Associate Professor Dortch five years ago and invited him to work with them again to help them find the true age of the Kalgan site, also known by the Noongar name of Kalganup.
In the 2007 project, on a tract of bushland between the Stirling Range and Fitzgerald River National Park (not far from the Kalgan), Noongar people identified valuable archaeological sites and found stone implements, lizard traps, quarries and patterns of settlement along creeks.
“Kalgan Hall is where fresh water meets salt water and where there would have been abundant resources such as fish and birds. It’s also 14m above river-level so it probably wasn’t prone to flooding,” Associate Professor Dortch said.
“Today’s science can give us some of the answers to questions that couldn’t be answered in the 1980s, which is when the Kalgan site was last dated. In the 1980s, it was thought the site was 19,000 years old but it could be older.
“Along with Larry, some of the other Noongar people involved were the organiser, Lynette Knapp, Carol Pettersen from the Wagyl Kaip Working Party, Vernice Gillies from the Albany Heritage Reference Group, Harley Coyne from the Department of Indigenous Affairs, and many others.”
Students, postgraduates and staff from UWA’s discipline of Archaeology worked at the Kalgan site as well as the nearby Old Farm, Strawberry Hill (or Barnup) in Albany – WA’s oldest farm. While the farm was established in 1831, the place had been used by Aboriginal people for thousands of years before that.
“It’s the meeting-place of a crosscultural world,” Professor Alistair Paterson, Chair of Archaeology, said.
“By 1831, there was Aboriginal ‘firestick farming’ in which the land had been managed by fire, alongside European farming with paddocks and fences, although at Strawberry Hill earth walls were used to keep animals away from crops,” Professor Paterson said.
“It’s satisfying to be able to bring science to a community who mobilised us as scientists to help them investigate and record their Indigenous heritage,” Associate Professor Dortch said.
Published in UWA News, 29 October 2012